It’s been just two weeks since Baylor Junior Kelsey Landrum ’18 spent June 21 — the longest day of the year — running in the ASICS Beat The Sun Challenge around the tallest point in the Alps. Kelsey was the leading vote-getter (link to an ASICS video on Kelsey) among six amateur runners chosen for two Americas relay teams that included six professional runners from the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.
The two relay teams didn’t complete the 150-kilometer race before sunset, but Kelsey still describes her experience as the “craziest, most challenging, but most incredible experience” she’s ever had. She took some time while recovering to discuss running on the Alpine terrain, the relationships built during her time in Europe, and how her experience will affect the rest of her time at Baylor, as well as her life after graduation.
What was your experience like? Every part of the course was so breathtaking, with so many different views. We raced through France, Italy, and Switzerland, so we saw everything from running over glaciers and snow to being in 65 degrees and sunny weather in little mountain towns.
What’s something you’ll never forget about the race? I think what made it so special was the people. Every person there was crazy enough to take on the same challenge, but [they were all] so humble. Because the race is split up into different legs, we spent the day with our seven other competitors, but we spent that time cheering for each other and doing whatever we could to help each other.
How old were the other competitors? I was the youngest contestant, but there were a few others close to my age…Regardless of age, everyone was so supportive and such wonderful friends. One thing that’s really unique and special to distance running, whether it be trail or on the road, is that we all need each other to do it.
What was your training schedule like when you arrived in Europe? I got there on June 16 so I had a few days to train and to adjust to the altitude. Our first run there was a four-mile run in an hour and a half where we climbed 3,400 feet in one run. After that run, we were able to run part of one of the legs of the race as a different part of our training. In total, the miles we ended up running were 129.6 miles and it was 8,850 meters of climbing, which is taller than Mt. Everest.
Were you eating a ton of carbs? I was eating a lot of carbs, natural non-processed things, a lot of chicken and fish, lots of fresh breads and pastas, healthy fats.
What was the most challenging part of the race? What was going through your mind as you encountered such intense physical strain? On my first leg, which was 13.8 kilometers long, the first couple miles were down a technical trail (a very narrow trail with a cliff on one side, a lot of switchbacks/turns, and a very uneven, rocky surface to run on), and that was challenging because of the technicality, but I was still making great time. After that, I had to go straight up the mountain. Around mile four or five [of that leg] I started to doubt myself, but two of my teammates drove behind me and cheered for me and yelled my name. It gave me a moment to remembere all the people who believed in me and I knew I had come way too far to let those moments of doubt get to me. What I had overcome to be in that moment was much greater than the hill that I was running. I kept the motivation, and I was doing exactly what I loved to do surrounded by so many people. After that I jumped that hurdle.
Are you hoping to run more races like this in the future? What’s next for you? It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what could possibly top it. I really don’t know what can! Right now I’m recovering and letting my body regain its energy, so I can determine if I want to become an elite distance runner, either trail or road running.
What are the major differences in technicality between trail and road running? I love different things about each of them. I do love that you’re always seeing something new on the trail, and you’re always kind of adventuring. But road running I love because sometimes on the road I feel like I can just fly, so they’re both awesome.
What are the lasting impacts that this race will have on you? I think this experience has challenged me in every way, physically and mentally. I traveled across the world by myself with people I’d never met, and we all came together to do this race, and it was just the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. That excitement I’ll always have inside me, and it will just fuel me, not only while I’m training but while I’m studying and will help me keep pursuing this passion. There were two points during the race when I wasn’t sure if I was lost, they can’t tell you which way to go, so I just had to pray and trust God that I was going the right way and doing the right thing. That really reminded me how much he is guiding us all the time.
How will the race affect the rest of your career and life choices as you continue at Baylor and beyond? I think for me, seeing that you can do this at an elite level as your profession or doing it at an elite level while still pursuing other things was pretty cool. A lot of the runners I ran with had other jobs, and they do so many other things in addition to pursuing elite running. I’m excited to see how I can combine my two passions in my post-graduate work and grad school. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m still very much looking forward to pursuing a career in the medical field as well as continuing to run.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from this experience? I would say to keep trying new things and keep putting yourself out there, whether it be a sport or a job. Two years ago, if you had told me I would have just finished this race, I wouldn’t have believed you. There’s a quote by Mary Oliver that says: “Keep room in your heart for the unimaginable.” That stuck with me through this entire journey, because when you’re stuck with just what [is familiar], you may not have found your passion yet. I think not being afraid to take on new challenges. And I’ve learned to never let any person’s opinions be your limitations. When I was standing on top of that mountain, I was so thankful that I hadn’t let people limit me because I wouldn’t have gotten there otherwise. That’s applicable to whatever challenge someone is trying to overcome. There are people who have overcome so much more than I have, and I don’t think that my story is amazing in any way, but I hope someone can find that hope in that.
By M. Elizabeth Starr ’16